Encounters with coyotes in cities across Canada appear to be more frequent these days. Starling incidents with the animals have made headlines around the world, such as the case of Macy the Yorkie, who ended up in ICU after trying to protect her 10-year-old owner from an attack in a Toronto neighbourhood. When a Global News crew came to interview the young girl, the same coyote appeared on camera chasing another neighbour.
Meanwhile, Vancouver’s Stanley Park has been the scene of a number of attacks in recent months, including one involving a two-year-old girl, which resulted in a trip to hospital, a female jogger, and a woman who was attacked from behind by the animal. The incidents led to a cull of four coyotes in the park, using soft-foot hold traps.
Are coyote attacks really on the rise in Canada?
Simon Gadbois, an ethologist at Dalhousie University who’s studied wild canines for 30 years, says while it may seem like these incidents are on the rise, it could be that the media is paying more attention. He refers to the fatal incident from 2009 involving 19-year-old Taylor Mitchell, who was attacked by coyotes while on a hike in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It’s the only known fatal coyote attack on an adult ever reported.
“Coyotes were in the news and everybody had Land and Forest on their speed dial,” he tells Yahoo Canada News. “Any time people would see a coyote they would panic and call.”
However, when Gadbois started researching incidents between coyotes and humans, he learned that there had been many such reports over the last 20 years.
“I’m not sure it’s as much as on the increase as people think,” he says. “But this past year, there seems to be something going on but it comes in waves.”
Currently, Stanley Park seems to be at the centre of that. Gadbois explains that coyotes aren’t attracted to humans, and if they are, there’s something compelling them, particularly a source of food.
People are either feeding them, or more often its indirect feeding like garbage management or picking up apples from your yard, emptying the bins in school yards. They’re around schools because there’s really juicy stuff in those garbage bins.Simon Gadbois, Ethologist at Dalhousie University
Culling of the animal is a decision made by a provincial government body, like the Department of Land and Forest. Gadbois explains that culling can actually backfire, since the move tends to boost the population down the line. The first year will see a reduction in numbers, but the following year there will be an increase in prey, so that the pups will have a better survival rate.
What to do if you encounter a coyote
There are other ways to secure a boundary between humans and coyotes. One is called hazing, in which a method is used to deter the animal from an area, conditioning them to associate humans with something other than food. There’s different ways to do this, which range from making loud noises, using water guns with vinegar or projecting rubber balls.
If you find yourself crossing paths with a coyote in the wild, Gadbois stresses that whatever you do, resist the urge to run away.
“Even if they’re not in predatory mode, they will start running after anything that moves,” he says. “It’s almost an instinctual response. You’re triggering something there and they can’t stop it.”
The same advice goes for people on bikes – don’t bike away. Instead, stop and get off. If you stop moving, the animal will stop.
Another step to take to discourage the animal from bothering you is to make a lot of noise, especially in a low voice.
“Make yourself look big, find something to throw,” he says. “Basically you’re sending a message that this isn’t going to be an easy fight and it’s not worth it.”